It is my firm belief that service to the poor is not some special spiritual “calling,” but a normative part of the Christian life, just like attending church or praying or reading your Bible. So why aren’t more Christians involved in caring for the poor? One reason I’ve encountered is ignorance.
The less you know about something, the less involved you will be with that something. We manipulate our lives in such a way that we know virtually nothing about the thousands of poor and homeless living all around us.
Knowing nothing gives us an excuse not to care.
Knowing nothing helps to perpetuate our prejudices and stereotypes about poor people, which hardens our ignorance.
Knowing nothing keeps us safe in our nice, little Christian comfort zones.
Knowing nothing also keeps us from spiritual growth through Christian service to others.
In talking to Christians about homeless people, I’m simply amazed at how many of them have such strong opinions and emotions regarding this subject.
I’m also amazed by the fact that almost none of these Christians actually know or have had a real conversation with a homeless person in their lifetimes. With little or no personal experience whatsoever, these highly opinionated people are self-proclaimed experts regarding homelessness and poverty.
Personal experience and factual knowledge helped to destroy my presuppositions about poverty. While I can’t give you personal experience (you have to get that on your own), I can provide you with some facts:
Every year, more than three million people experience homelessness. This number includes 1.3 million children.
One-third of the homeless population is composed of families.
Almost half of the homeless population is employed. However, they do not earn enough money to pay for housing. 
Housing affordability is the main issue for homeless with low incomes. Estimates indicate that there are twice as many low-income families searching for homes than there are affordable units available.
Although many homeless apply for government assistance, frequently they end up waiting for upwards of six years on subsidized Section 8 housing lists. Due to government inefficiencies, others find that they simply cannot even get on such waiting lists.
Over 30 million people live at or below the poverty line. There is currently no jurisdiction in the United States in which a full-time job at the prevailing minimum wage provides enough income to rent a one-bedroom home.
A significant number of the homeless population is mentally disabled, but never receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Further, the de-institutionalization policies of the 1960s and following have left many such individuals abandoned to a life on the street with no means of support.
Some studies have shown that only 20% of the homeless population can be considered “chronically” homeless.
In this past year ministering on the street, I’ve been surprised to find that, contrary to popular Christian belief, a significant number of homeless are believers. Many not only know the gospel, but can actually recite verses entirely from memory as well as discuss intricate theological and philosophical issues.
Of course, some Christians refuse to believe this, saying that if someone is saved, then it is unthinkable that they could wind up on the street. Among other things, I would merely reply that these skeptics possess a very low view of sin and a low view of the influence of the powers of the world that entice men and women to engage in patterns of life-dominating sin.
Should we not be diligently ministering to restore our fallen brothers and sisters who find themselves locked in a vicious cycle of sin and poverty?
1John 3:16 (ESV) By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
“Homelessness and Poverty in America,” National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, http://www.nlchp.org/hapia.cfm, Accessed 14 November 2009.